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Solved: The 23 year mystery of man’s body found on Weybourne beach

The grave of Michael Sutherland at Weybourne Cemetery.
PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

The grave of Michael Sutherland at Weybourne Cemetery. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2012

For more than two decades a grave with no name has stood in a north Norfolk churchyard.

The grave of Michael Sutherland at Weybourne Cemetery.
PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY The grave of Michael Sutherland at Weybourne Cemetery. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Despite a six-month police investigation, the man’s body could not be identified - leaving villagers to gather for a poignant funeral at Weybourne cemetery in April 1990.

But now - thanks to modern detective work - the mystery of the body washed up on Weybourne beach in 1989 has been solved.

Police can now reveal that it is Michael Sutherland, 34, of Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire, who was found 23 years ago on October 9 by local fishermen.

The remarkable breakthrough has come about thanks to advances in forensic science, allowing Mr Sutherland’s family finally to get closure.

Det Chief Insp Andy Guy from Norfolk and Suffolk’s major investigation team heads up the team of officers who have been taking a fresh look at the region’s missing persons inquiries since May last year.

He said it was rare to solve investigations as old as this one.

“On April 19 last year an exhumation was carried out to obtain DNA from Mr Sutherland’s body. From the teeth I got a DNA profile and put this on the [missing person] database and found a match.”

He was then able to make contact with Mr Sutherland’s sister, 67 year old Ann Stockton, of Cleethorpes, and said it was “a good thing” to be able to get closure for the family.

The painstaking process of re-examining these cases, some of which go back as far as the early 1960s, is part of a county-wide bid to help families desperately hoping to be reunited with their loved ones or at least to find answers.

DCI Guy said unidentified bodies recovered in Norfolk and Suffolk, such as Mr Sutherland’s, were also part of their investigations and the team used a national missing person database to help crack these cases.

“The person is added to the list and is shown as missing,” he said.

“Then we also have a list of human remains. But in this case the home force - the local force - had captured DNA from Mr Sutherland’s family and put it on the database.”

He explained that DNA was usually taken from the missing person but if police were unable to collect any then a virtual profile was made up using family members, such as the mother, father, siblings or children.

He said it would not have been standard practice to collect DNA before 1995.

Now Mrs Stockton, and other members of Mr Sutherland’s family, will be making the 118-mile journey to Norfolk to put him to rest after organising a dedication service at Weybourne’s All Saints Church, where Mrs Stockton will read a eulogy.

She said: “Anyone wishing to come that attended the original service in 1990 is welcome.”

The service will be held on November 1 at 10.30am.

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